Archive for April, 2012

R.I.P., Barnabas Collins

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins

Before there was Edward Cullen and “Twilight,” there was another reluctant vampire.

Barnabas Collins, played by the Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid in the 1960s television series “Dark Shadows,” may have been the first new age sensitive vampire on film, but he didn’t start out that way. When he was added to the cast to bolster sagging ratings, he was a sinister character. But like many characters in TV shows of that era, he changed.

The 1790s portrait of Barnabas Collins that was still hanging at the Collins family estate in the 1970s.

When I was a boy, I loved “Dark Shadows.” If I had known the series, created by Dan Curtis, was a soap opera, I would have been too embarrassed to admit it. But my friends and I who watched it every day didn’t know it was for women.

Neither did most kids in America. “Dark Shadows” had a huge following among our age group. Spin-offs marketed for youth included “Dark Shadows” comic books, trading cards, fan magazines, games and movies.

And now, after all these years, there’s a new “Dark Shadows” movie. It’s a spoof of the original TV show, and of its era. It’s the creation of Tim Burton, who was responsible for the “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” so you know it’s going to be wonderfully weird. Kentucky’s Johnny Depp as Barnabas, and Frid, the original Barnabas, has a cameo appearance.

I didn’t know “Dark Shadows” still had a big cult following until the trailers for the new movie came out, and I started seeing reminders of the old “Dark Shadows.”

Last week I bought a DVD at Walmart of some of Barnabas’s best episodes from the TV series that ran from 1966 to 1971, and at libraries and bookstores, I’ve seen the paperback “Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch,” by Lara Parker, who played the evil witch Angelique in the original show.

Jonathan Frid, right, who died April 13, played vampire Barnabas Collins in the 1930s soap "Dark Shadows" and has a cameo appearance in Tim Burton's upcoming "Dark Shadows" film in which Barnabas is played by Johnny Depp, left.

This week, I was reading the celebrity obituaries in a newspaper and noticed that Jonathan Frid had died April 13. He was 87.

It made me a little sad — even though his character Barnabas Collins had been dead as long as I had known him.

Kathryn Leigh Scott played several characters in the TV show, including Maggie Collins Evans and Josette DuPres, the 18th century lover of Barnabas. Scott publicly announced Frid’s death.

On her blog, she wrote that she was blessed to “have known this dear man both on screen and off. … ”

“He was irascible, irreverent, funny, caring, lovable and thoroughly professional, and in the end, became the whole reason why kids ‘ran home from school to watch’ ‘Dark Shadows,’” she wrote.  (Read her blog here.)

Kathyn Leigh Scott, who was a Playboy bunny before she played characters in "Dark Shadows," remained a friend of Jonathan Frid until his death.

(Click here to watch a 1986 “Hour Magazine” TV interview with Jonathan Frid and Kathryn Leigh Scott and see a scene of them from the original “Dark Shadows” series.)

Well, Barnabas wasn’t the whole reason I tuned in (TV sets actually had tuning knobs in those days). I also had a school boy crush on Maggie Evans and other characters. And I liked David Selby’s werewolf character, Quentin Collins, and others. But Barnabas was the best.

I’m going to miss Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins. May he finally rest in peace.

(Click here to listen to the spooky opening score from the original TV series.)

 

Nazi rally peaceful despite incendiary rhetoric

Editor’s note: My temporary work with The Associated Press this year has mostly involved covering the Kentucky General Assembly, but occasionally there have been other assignments, including this one: covering a Neo-Nazi and KKK rally in Frankfort on April 21.

By RANDY PATRICK/Associated Press

At least 70 law enforcement officers were present to control a crowd of 150 to 200 demonstrators when a group of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members rallied against illegal immigration Saturday afternoon on the steps of the Kentucky Capitol.

Members of the National Socialist Movement and the Ku Klux Klan rallied in Frankfort Saturday against illegal immigration. AP photo by John Flavell.

Lt. Brian Bowling of the Kentucky State Police, who is in charge of Capitol security, said no arrests were made and Maj. Fred Deaton of the Frankfort Police Department said no physical altercations occurred during the event that lasted about 90 minutes.

Members of the KKK, wearing hoods and robes, joined black-suited neo-Nazis, who carried swastika flags and shouted “Sig heil,” while the crowd of counter-protesters lining the sidewalk screamed “Go home!”

Jeff Schoep, commander of the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, said the group targeted Kentucky because of the state’s illegal immigration problem and the recession.

“We’re not a hate group,” said Schoep, the first speaker at the rally. “We’re a white civil rights organization.”

But counterdemonstrators, including members of the Fairness Campaign and other groups, said the neo-Nazis’ message was hateful.

Ariana Lackey, of Frankfort, and her 18-year-old son Aaron Lackey stood silently as they watched. The mother said that when she was a girl, her father took her to watch a Ku Klux Klan rally in Okolona. More than 30 years later, she was doing the same thing with Aaron.

“I brought my son here because I want him to see hate in his face,” she said. “It’s a learning experience for him.”

Aaron Lackey said the neo-Nazis were trying to “create tension, to get under people’s skin,” but he refused to be provoked.

While Nazi supporters yelled that God hates homosexuals, Victoria King, of Lawrenceburg, held a sign with a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Part of the prayer, she said, is “‘Where there is darkness, let me sow light.’”

“This is pretty dark,” she said.

After the rally, the members of the National Socialist Movement and their allies were bused away from the site on Frankfort Transit vehicles, the same way they were brought in.

Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said the size and organization of the police force helped keep the event under control.

“I think it was a good deterrent,” he said. “We were prepared for whatever we needed to handle, and fortunately, we didn’t have to handle anything.”

To read this article on the Lexington Herald-Leader’s website, as well as my precede story for AP, and see more of AP freelance photographer John Flavell’s photos, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/search_results?q=Neo-Nazis

Memories of an ‘engaged journalist’

At the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort last October, Al Cross, one of the commonwealth’s two best-known political journalists, introduced me to the other one: Al Smith.

I should say reintroduced me, because I had met Smith more than 20 years ago when I had been a guest on his KET program “Comment on Kentucky” as a reporter for The Richmond Register.

Although we hadn’t spoken in ages, he knew who I was, and that I had recently been down-sized from my job as managing editor at The Winchester Sun.

Always the gracious and humorous host, he joked that he should be asking for my autograph as I handed him a copy of his memoir, “Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism,” for him to sign.

He said the Sun was a good daily, and that I’d had something to do with making it better.

Smith, who knows what it feels like to be fired from newspapers, knew what I was going through. He wrote that I was “a talented, honest journalist,” and that he hoped “this story helps.”

It did. It inspired me to pick myself up and try again. Soon after, I was working as a reporter for the Associated Press at the state Capitol, covering the 2012 legislative session.

If I remain in journalism, my current temporary position will be a bridge to my next job. If I decide to do something different, I’ll be able to say I finished my journalism career working for the most important news organization in the world – however briefly.

I didn’t read Smith’s story until after the holidays, but of the books I read this winter – from January to March – it’s the one I enjoyed most and could relate to best.

Al Smith worked for two big-city dailies in New Orleans, covering crooked cops, a mafia boss and an eccentric governor, Earl Long, before his battle with the bottle resulted in his losing both those jobs. He ended up in Kentucky working as editor of a country weekly in Russellville, then becoming a community newspaper owner and publisher himself before his career stretched out to include service to governors and presidents and having his own political reporters’ roundtable program on public television.

I can relate to some of his experience because most of my time in the newspaper trade has been as an editor of country weeklies, covering colorful characters in rural counties. Like Smith, I once even lived in an old hotel while I wrote about everything from murders to mushroom festivals.

One of the stories I liked was about my predecessor at the Frankfort AP bureau, Sy Ramsey. The first time he asked Ramsey to be on “Comment on Kentucky,” the reporter answered in a patronizing tone: “The AP has no opinions about the news.”

Smith explained that he didn’t want Ramsey’s opinons, only his “insight and background.”

“KET is neutral, you know,” he said.

“That satisfied Sy,” Smith wrote. “He went on to become the most opinionated reporter ever on ‘Comment.’”

That was one of the things I was told when I joined the AP: that I no longer had any opinions about anything, and I’ve tried to be careful to follow that rule. But it’s a radical departure from community journalism, as Smith explains in his memoir.

The “favored model for ethical journalism in the second half of the twentieth century was the detached, objective reporter,” Smith wrote, then added: “That was never me. I was an engaged journalist.”

Being engaged doesn’t mean that you aren’t objective in your method of reporting. You look at the facts and see where they lead, not select facts that support your conclusions, and tweak them a bit to make them fit, as the partisan pundits do. But if you’re a good community journalist, you’ve got a leadership role to play in your community, and you can’t do that as a detached bystander.

“Advocacy was my thing,” Smith wrote. “If I knew the facts, I formed convictions about the truth. Sometimes I stepped into the ring, becoming an active player in the narratives I told. But my practice was first to listen, to be fair, to report the opinions of others, to give them space in my newspapers, and always to be informed.”

That may be a retro way of looking at the role of a newspaper, but it’s one that works in small towns where the subject of your story on Thursday is likely to be the same person you’ll see at the church potluck on Sunday or buying a classified ad in your paper on Monday.

“Wordsmith” was one of those books on my winter reading list that reminded me why there’s still a necessary place for engaged rural journalism in small towns throughout America. Another book with that message was “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local” by Jock Lauterer, a North Carolina journalism professor and former editor and publisher of community papers in that state.

I had first read Lauterer’s book right after it was published in the late 1990s, when I was editor of The Jessamine Journal, a weekly in Nicholasville. The edition I started reading in January (and am still reading) is from 2006, and has become an important textbook on college campuses around the country, as well as a guidebook for those of us who have been in the business for a while.

Lauterer makes the same point Smith does in explaining that a community paper is not a small version of a big city daily. Community journalists, he says, “are active citizens in the communities they cover. They’re involved. It’s a personal approach, a sacred calling.”

Whatever direction the next half of my own career takes, it’s a calling I’m glad I answered. It has been rewarding in so many ways.

Here’s a list of the books I read this past winter:

“The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch,” by Lindsay Apple (non-fiction)

Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism,” by Al Smith (non-fiction)

“On the Banks of Monks Pond: The Thomas Merton/Jonathan Greene Correspondence” (non-fiction)

“Momentum for Life: Biblical Practices for Sustaining Physical Health, Personal Integrity and Strategic Focus,” by Michael Slaughter (non-fiction)

“How to Find Your Mission in Life,” by Richard Bolles (non-fiction)

“Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local,” by Jock Lauterer (non-fiction)

“George Herbert Walker Bush,” by Tom Wicker (non-fiction)

“Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero,” by Chris Matthews (non-fiction)

“Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters,” by Timothy Keller (non-fiction)

“The Great Divorce: A Dream,” by C.S. Lewis (fiction)

“Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show,” by Frank Delaney (fiction)

“The Spirituality of St. Patrick,” by Lesley Whiteside (non-fiction)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Higher Ground’ – a film for faithful doubters

“I rather believe in doubting. The only people I’ve met in this world who never doubt are materialists and atheists.” – Malcolm Muggeridge

Vera Farmiga plays Corinne Walker and Michael Chernus plays her husband Ned in "Higher Ground."

Malcolm Muggeridge, the English journalist, soldier and spy who came to faith in Christ late in life and introduced the world to Mother Teresa, probably would not have liked “Higher Ground,” Vera Farmiga’s 2011 film about faith and doubt.

Muggeridge was a moralist who railed against the sexual revolution and drug culture of the late 1960s.

And “Higher Ground” is not in the genre of syrupy “Christian” films. It isn’t Rated R for nothing.

I’m not as prudish as Muggeridge, but I found some of the profanity and sexual references a little disconcerting for a about Christian belief — in the same way I find Madonna’s incorporating Christian imagery into her raunchy videos blasphemous.

But “Higher Ground” is a good illustration of Muggeridge’s argument that doubt and faith are not exclusive.

I liked this movie well enough to watch it twice. You won’t find it at LifeWay or even Walmart, but it is available on Netflix.

The story, based on screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs’s memoir, begins with Corinne as a little girl at a fundamentalist church, where her pastor asks the children at a Bible school class, with every head bowed and all eyes closed, to raise their hands if they said “yes” to Jesus. Corinne raises her hand and is immediately “outed” by the preacher. Moments later she’s shocked by his flirting with her mother.

As a teenager, Corinne gets pregnant by her aspiring rock musician boyfriend, Ned, and marries him. While on their way to a gig, the band’s RV veers off the road into a body of water. Their baby is spared, though, and Corinne and Ethan are convinced it’s a miracle from God. Corinne, a lapsed Christian, finds faith again. Or at least tries hard.

Ethan and Corinne as teen parents.

She and Ethan immerse themselves in an intensive evangelical house church congregation. Corinne’s best friend from the church, Annika, is a funny and fun-loving charismatic Christian who prays in a “private prayer language” – something Corinne wants, but Ned dismisses as “voodoo.”

Corinne starts to lose her faith when Annika has surgery for a brain tumor and becomes a vegetable. Then her marriage falls apart. She goes to see a creepy Christian counselor who instead of offering the balm of Gilead for her emotional wounds, gives only judgment, telling her she’s going to be tortured in hell.

“And you get to watch?” she asks impudently.

Corinne is tempted by her mail carrier, Liam, a handsome, poetry-reciting Dubliner who is also married with children – something he doesn’t tell her.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes occurs when Corinne is sitting alone in her car, looking up at the sky and pleading with God to draw near.

“Lord, help me. I can’t feel you. I feel nothing,” she said.

How many of us, if we’re honest, have prayed that same prayer?

Corinne’s pastor is embarrassed by her doubts and questions, and tries to shut her up. But once, she stands before the congregation, reunited if only for a moment with her husband and children, and is completely honest.

She tells about when she was a little girl and invited Jesus into her heart, but “I’m standing here today, and I’m still waiting for him to make himself at home,” she says. “You know, I call and call. And there have been times, I know, when he answers me. Times when I’m sure of it. But other times, I’ve got the porch light on, and he doesn’t come. And I feel like I live in an empty place.”

Corinne is wrestling with God, like Jacob did in the Bible, and she tells her fellow parishioners, “I’m not going to let go until he blesses me.”

Like Corinne, I admire those who have that “blessed assurance” that evangelical Christians sing about. But for others — and I’m among them — faith is a journey.

At Gethsemane, Jesus asked his Father to let the bitter cup he was about to drink from pass from him, but that the Father's will, not his own, be done.

If this has also been your experience, we’re both in good company. Peter told Jesus he would never reject him, but Jesus said that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter would deny him three times. Peter didn’t believe Jesus when he told him he could walk on water, and started to sink. Thomas, like Peter, also encountered the risen Lord, but wouldn’t believe it was really him until he had placed his fingers in the Savior’s wounds.

Even Jesus prayed to Abba (the Aramaic word for Dad), to “let this cup pass,” but then said, “not my will, but yours be done.”

That prayer was answered, and because it was, we were ransomed.

Even as he hung on the cross, Jesus pleaded, echoing the words of the Psalmist: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Just because we feel forsaken by God doesn’t mean that we are.

C.S. Lewis

During this Lenten season, I have been reading a devotional booklet from my church with excerpts from the writings of C.S. Lewis, a former atheist who became a Christian as an adult and became one of the best-known defenders and explainers of the faith.

In the passage I read on Maundy Thursday, Lewis wrote that having anxieties isn’t a defect of faith. “They are afflictions, not sins.” Even Jesus, at Gethsemane, had his hour of “sweating blood” as he was filled with dread and loneliness. He was, after all, fully human. The Word became flesh so that he could feel what we feel. So we shouldn’t feel guilty about having Gethsemane moments.

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus questions the faith of the father of a boy who is possessed by an evil spirit. The father answers: “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”

Flannery O' Connor

Flannery O’Connor, the southern novelist, and a Catholic, said that “Help my unbelief” is the “foundation prayer of faith.”

“Let me tell you this,” O’Connor wrote.”Faith comes and goes. It rises like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is presumptuous to think that unbelief will.”

“Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you,” she says. “It is trust, not certainty.”

Trust.

Trust and act on your faith as if you believe, and belief may return.

Like Corinne, if we wrestle with God and don’t let go, the morning will come, and perhaps with it, a blessing.

To view a trailer of “Higher Ground,” click here on link of copy and paste it into your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRpFKwJHQ7g

 

 

 

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